Chapter 1: Is Police Brutality a Serious Problem?
Chapter 1 Preface
Soon after Rudolph Giuliani became mayor of New York City in 1994, he began a crackdown on petty crime and criminals that reduced the rate of serious crime to levels the city had not experienced since the 1970s. While many of the city’s residents were grateful for the increased police presence in their neighborhoods, others were less welcoming. Claims of police brutality increased 62 percent during the first two years of the crackdown. Other cities that instituted police crackdowns reported similar statistics—Cincinnati, Baltimore, Atlanta, Pittsburgh, and Washington, D.C., all recorded lower crime rates but a higher number of police brutality complaints. When newspapers reported in August 1997 that New York City police were alleged to have beaten and sodomized a Haitian immigrant named Abner Louima, critics of police seemed to be vindicated in their belief that police brutality was a common occurrence in police departments across the country.
Many civil rights groups—such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People—maintain that in their zeal to take back the streets from criminals, the police overstep the bounds of their authority by unnecessarily beating their suspects. Furthermore, these critics assert, this excessive use of force by some police officers is overlooked or condoned by their police departments. While these groups acknowledge that just a few officers are responsible for...
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Police Brutality Is a Serious Problem
About the author: Amnesty International is a worldwide voluntary movement that works to prevent governmental violations of people’s fundamental human rights.
Amnesty International (AI) has reviewed more than 90 individual cases of alleged ill-treatment and excessive force by New York City police officers, dating from the late 1980s to early 1996. The large majority of the cases involve officers from the New York Police Department (NYPD), although a few cases involve officers from the NYC Transit or Housing Authority Police Departments before their merger with the NYPD in 1995. In most cases civil lawsuits seeking damages for police misconduct were filed against the individual officers concerned, as well as against the Police Department and the City of New York as the authorities responsible for police practices and behaviour. These lawsuits include tort actions brought in the state courts, and cases brought under Title 42, Section 1983 of the United States Code (USC)—a federal civil rights statute which allows individuals to sue state officials directly in a state or federal court for violations of their civil or constitutional rights. In many of the cases examined substantial damages were awarded to the plaintiffs for alleged police misconduct. The police and other authorities have pointed out that civil lawsuits do not prove misconduct and that most cases are settled out-of-court by the city (i.e., without going to trial) without any...
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Brutality by Federal Law Enforcement Agents Is a Serious Problem
About the author: Catherine M. Farmer is a freelance writer in Louisiana.
“I love my country, but I’m afraid of my government.” That’s not just a slogan on the bumper stickers of a handful of radicals. It also reflects the sentiments of a growing number of thoughtful Americans.
A Renegade Government
In spite of bipartisan pledges of governmental accountability, many citizens are more concerned about assaults from federal agents than attacks from common criminals. Although lawful, for now the odds are not good when defending oneself from a renegade government. When Randy Weaver tried to protect his family in Ruby Ridge, Idaho, in 1992, from an unprovoked assault by some 400 federal agents, his wife Vickie, holding their baby in her arms, was shot through the head by a government sniper. Half her face was blown away. She died instantly. Their 14-year-old son Sammy was shot in the back and killed. The Branch Davidians’ attempts at self-defense in Waco, Texas, in 1993, were also disastrous. Eighty-six women, children and men were killed. Some were shot to death; the rest were gassed and burned alive. In spite of the elaborate cover-up by the Clinton Administration, exhaustive documentation of FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) treachery is becoming known. It’s overwhelming.
As Paul Craig Roberts said in the Washington Times, “There is no longer any doubt that federal law...
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Police Brutality Against Minorities Is a Serious Problem
About the author: Bernice Powell Jackson is the executive director of the United Church of Christ Commission for Racial Justice and a columnist for the on-line publication Black World Today.
In New York City two Hispanic men are killed when they are shot from behind 28 times and another Hispanic man is choked to death after his football hits a police car. In Pittsburgh, an African American businessman is choked to death after being stopped for a traffic violation. A St. Petersburg, Florida, African American motorist is shot to death also after a traffic stop. A New Haven, Connecticut, African American man suffers the same fate. In each case the killing occurred while the men were in police custody or in the course of a police action.
These are just a few of the stories which were heard at the National Emergency Conference on Police Brutality held in New York City in 1997. Sponsored by the Center for Constitutional Rights, this conference brought together people who had experienced police brutality from across the nation, including Kentucky, Georgia, Ohio, Florida, New York, and New Jersey.
The Criminal Injustice System
Indeed, criminal justice is the issue which seems to show the greatest racial divide in this nation. Most people of color would characterize the system as the criminal injustice system and most European Americans would not. A New York Times columnist wrote how, in the course of writing a...
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Police Brutality Against Hispanics Is a Serious Problem
About the author: Michael Huspek is an associate professor of communications at California State University in San Marcos.
A report by the San Diego office of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) reveals 267 complaints of human and civil rights violations suffered by persons at the hands of law enforcement officials in and around San Diego, California. While the complaints involve the Sheriff’s Department in Vista, San Marcos and Fallbrook, the San Diego Police Department and the California Highway Patrol, those agencies most frequently singled out are U.S. Customs and the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), including the Border Patrol.
Among the complaints are 63 narratives, recorded over a three-year period, that provide a uniquely human look at how law enforcement agencies may be operating on the edge of lawlessness. Among the complaints are: illegal stops and searches of persons and their private property; verbal, psychological and physical abuse; deprivation of food, water and medical attention; and use of excessive force.
The narratives represent a highly diverse population. This includes undocumented immigrants such as Jorge Soriano Bautista who, detected entering the United States without legal documentation, ran from the Border Patrol until he was hit hard in the back by an agent’s Ford Bronco, knocking him to the ground and causing him to black out.
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Brutality Against Prisoners Is a Serious Problem
About the authors: Ben Chaney is the director of the James Earl Chaney Foundation, a civil rights organization named for Ben Chaney’s brother, a civil rights activist who was killed in 1964 in Mississippi. Karen Carrillo is a regional editor of Third Force magazine and the deputy editor of City Sun in Brooklyn, New York.
Andre Lamond Jones was an 18-year-old African American teenager scheduled to go to college in the fall of 1992. In August 1992, Andre—the son of Esther Jones-Quinn, president of the Jackson, Mississippi, chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and the stepson of Minister Charles X Quinn, the local Jackson leader of the Nation of Islam— was driving his girlfriend home from a date when he was stopped by an officer from the Brandon County Sheriff’s Department. Jones was arrested for having an open beer can in the front seat, carrying a concealed weapon and allegedly altering the vehicle identification number of the truck he was driving.
Hanged with a Shoestring
He was first taken to the Brandon County Jail and later transferred to nearby Simpson County Jail. But within hours of being moved, 18-year-old, five-footnine- inch Andre Lamond Jones was found hanging from a nine-foot shower stall with his Nike shoelaces wrapped around his neck.
The Mississippi state medical examiner ruled Jones’ death a suicide. But Chicago pathologist Dr. James Bryant,...
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The Media Downplay Police Brutality
About the author: Revolutionary Worker is a newspaper published by the Revolutionary Communist Party.
On the morning of August 9, 1997, Abner Louima was beaten and raped with the handle of a toilet plunger in a New York police station. At least four cops beat him. The main cop who raped Abner Louima paraded around the stationhouse like a maniac, waving the plunger he was going to use. He shouted, “This is Giuliani time,” as he carried out his sick and brutal deeds. [Rudolph Giuliani is the mayor of New York City.]
Looking the Other Way
Not a single cop in the stationhouse responded to Abner Louima’s screams. Not a single cop lifted a finger to accompany Abner Louima to the emergency room, even though they knew that he was suffering severely and in possible danger of death. A nurse at the hospital where the cops took Louima was overheard to say that this time she couldn’t go along with it and lie for them. Later the police commissioner said that he was shocked because “this wasn’t brutality, this was criminal”—as if brutality is not a crime. And of the nearly 100 cops at the precinct who have been interviewed on this, only two have come forward to say a single word.
The Lessons Are Clear
The lessons of this should seem clear to anyone:
• At a minimum, that there are extremely sick and brutal cops on the New York police force who run rampant.
• At a minimum,...
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The Extent of Police Brutality Is Exaggerated
About the author: William J. Bratton, the New York City police commissioner from 1994 to 1996, is the president of First Security Consulting.
The arrest of four New York City police officers in the alleged August 1997 torture of Abner Louima, a Haitian immigrant, reopens an old debate. Has the Police Department’s sharper focus on community policing and quality-of-life crimes led officers to abuse their authority and use excessive force? Have we paid too high a price for the remarkable decline in crime that has occurred since 1993?
Not a Large Problem
The answer is no. This incident does not reflect a larger problem with the police force. In fact, such horror stories rarely occur. A 1994 study by the New York City Police Department found that although officers made nearly 275,000 arrests in 1993, fewer than 100 people were hospitalized as a result of these encounters. This number includes people who violently resisted arrest—including those who shot at officers.
Civilian complaints are also often misrepresented. The peak year for civilian complaints against the Police Department was 1985; there were 7,073 complaints, 26 percent more than in 1996.
This peak followed a period of heavy hiring in the early 1980’s, as the department began to make up for the layoffs caused by the 1975 fiscal crisis.
Indeed, complaints always rise after there is a large influx of new police officers. In...
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The Use of Extreme Force Is Sometimes Justified
About the author: Sarah J. McCarthy is a freelance writer.
Jonny Gammage died on the night of October 12, 1995, in front of Frank and Shirley’s pancake parlor, just three miles from my home. Jonny was a black man, a cousin and business partner of Pittsburgh Steeler Ray Seals, and he died in the custody of five white suburban policemen who had pulled him over for a minor traffic violation. Gammage’s last words, according to Whitehall police Sgt. Keith Henderson, were the unforgettable words of a man who feared for his life. “Keith, Keith, I’m only 31,” he begged as he lay prone on the ground, the officers holding him down. A few minutes later he was dead of suffocation from the pressure applied to his neck and chest.
Creating an Explosive Situation
Sgt. Henderson testified that Gammage came out of the car swinging, and that had he been the arresting officer he would have shot Gammage. An eyewitness tow truck driver, sitting in Frank and Shirley’s parking lot, refuted the officer’s testimony, saying that a Brentwood policeman initiated the altercation, attacking Gammage from behind. One of the cops had a suspicious violent act in his past, and Jonny Gammage had a couple alleged incidents, inadmissible in court, where he had been belligerent to police officers in Syracuse.
Though there is no agreement on what really happened that night, two things are certain. Gammage shouldn’t have died during a...
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Brutality Against Illegal Immigrants Is Exaggerated
About the author: John Corry is a senior correspondent for the American Spectator, a conservative monthly magazine.
It was Rodney King all over again, with a reminder of O.J. Simpson. An 80- mile chase on California freeways in April 1996 ended when a truck carrying twenty-one illegal Mexican immigrants finally stopped. Videotape shot by a helicopter news crew caught two sheriff’s deputies clubbing the driver of the truck and a passenger with nightsticks. The videotape was shown over and over on CNN, and it made all the evening news programs. Cries of outrage immediately followed. The Mexican government charged racism, while the White House expressed concern, and civil rights and immigration groups held demonstrations. Hypocrisy lay thick on the ground, along with intrusions into domestic politics. Republican rhetoric, apparently, had led to the beating of the Mexican driver and his passenger. Actually, they were lucky they only got clubbed.
Consider the provocations. The truck evaded a Border Patrol checkpoint. Various police units then pursued it, reportedly at speeds up to 100 miles an hour. Passengers in the truck threw beer cans at the pursuers. When the camper frame on the truck became loosened, they threw chunks of that. Meanwhile, the driver of the truck sideswiped cars, presumably as a diversionary tactic. When the truck stopped, the occupants bolted, except for the driver and two passengers. Two...
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Efforts to Reduce Police Brutality Should Not Interfere with Effective Crime Control
About the author: George L. Kelling, the coauthor of Fixing Broken Windows: Restoring Order and Reducing Crime in Our Communities, is a professor of criminal justice at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, a fellow of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, and an adjunct fellow of the Manhattan Institute.
The assault and torture of Abner Louima by New York City police officers in August 1997 was an abomination. It was an appallingly deviant act, not representative of the New York City Police Department, of policing generally or of good order-maintenance tactics. But critics of the police—from radical civil libertarians to political opportunists seeking an issue in the race to unseat popular GOP Mayor Rudolph Giuliani—are exploiting this disgraceful event in an effort to derail New York City’s highly successful crime-prevention efforts.
Their outcry since the assault on Mr. Louima raises a couple of pressing questions: Did Mr. Giuliani and his former police commissioner, William Bratton, “unleash” the police to brutalize citizens? And are cities that are following New York’s model—instituting policing policies based on the conception that disorder breeds crime—putting their citizens at risk from rampaging cops?
The stakes involved in answering such questions are high. The murder rate in New York has declined by 49% since 1993; other serious crimes are down almost as dramatically. While debate is...
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Media Reports of Police Brutality Are Incomplete
About the author: Nancy L. Ford is the editor of Partners Off Duty, a bimonthly newsletter for family and friends of police officers.
I was a bridesmaid in my sister-in-law’s wedding. My job was to walk down the aisle holding a single lighted candle. I did so graciously, smilingly, as did the other bridesmaids. The camera recorded this moment. It’s hard to imagine, watching the videotape of my calm face that the entire time I was walking down the aisle, the scorching, dripping wax from the candle was burning me with every step I took.
Imagine if there were a camera taping a fight between you and your husband, only it didn’t show the part where he came tromping into the house with his boots full of mud and grass clippings hanging from every stitch of clothes on his body. The camera also doesn’t reveal the fact that you’re to be entertaining a group of friends at your house in exactly 15 minutes. How would this look to you? Do you think that your anger would be perceived as overblown, unreasonable, unnecessary?
The True Rodney King Story
What if you were to watch a videotape, with no audio accompaniment, of a suspect being beaten by police in an attempt to control him. You would think, “That is totally unnecessary!! Look, he’s complying with their orders! What’s wrong with those cops?” Now take a listen to the background that you were unaware of and which should have been available to you in...
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The Media Overemphasize Police Brutality
About the author: Joseph Sobran is a syndicated columnist.
The alleged police torture of a Haitian immigrant in August 1997 has New York City in an uproar, complete with a protest march and the arrival of Johnnie Cochran to offer legal assistance to the victim.
Though some details are in dispute, nobody is defending what the police in the case are said to have done, for the simple reason that it was indefensible— and extremely repulsive. The Haitian, Abner Louima, had the handle of a toilet plunger shoved into his rectum and then into his mouth. His injuries were serious; so was his degradation.
The case was further inflamed by the racial angle. The cops are said to have used racial epithets while torturing him.
No wonder so many people are outraged. And no wonder Johnnie Cochran sees the case as an opportunity.
And yet worse police violence fails to stir similar outrage. If the police had shot Mr. Louima to death, the story might have passed quickly, with little local protest and no national media coverage.
The Chinatown Principle
Why? Think of it as the Chinatown principle. You may not remember many of the hundreds of movie murders you’ve seen, but you’ll never forget the moment in Chinatown when Jack Nicholson gets his nostril slit with a switchblade. He requires only a few stitches, but an ingeniously nasty little injury can make far more impact on...
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